If you are reading this blog, you probably know a fair bit about the concept of “openness.” You may even think that an “open” item is something that you can find online that is free, and available for your use, and even for your reuse. By “reuse” I mean that you think you can change it and then “reuse” it for your teaching or research needs.
Well, that may or may not be true. In fact, the word “open” can be used in a number of contexts. For example, when we talk about “open source,” we are explicitly referring to software. Moodle, the learning management system (LMS) is an example of open source software. The source code is available for you to reuse, modify, etc. as you wish. Of course there can be other conditions related to open source software, but that is beyond the scope of this blog.
Then there is the term “Open Access.” Open Access is a movement that concerns the publication of free, online journals, journal articles, and textbooks. Material published under an Open Access policy is generally freely available for you to access without having to subscribe to a publication, or even join a society that publishes such publications. The Open Access movement started as a result of demand by various research communities to allow government-funded research to be freely available since the public (taxpayers) had already paid for it. The Open Access movement has been extended beyond journals and journal articles to now include textbooks. You should note however, that just because something is Open Access doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a copyright. In fact, such materials continue to be owned (copyrighted) by the author, the publisher, or both. And if you cite material from an Open Access publication, it must be cited in exactly the same manner as if the material were from a traditional publication.
Finally we have Open Education Resources (OERs). This is a term that was first defined more than 10 years ago at a Hewlett foundation-supported UNESCO conference, and it concerns online learning materials, sometimes called learning objects. Hewlett defines OERs as:
OER (sic) are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge. (For more information, visit http://www.hewlett.org/programs/education-program/open-educational-resources)
From a practical sense, OER’s generally have a license that indicates what you can and cannot do with them. Creative Commons (CC) licensing (www.creativecommons.org) defines six possible licenses that an OER can carry. Depending on the license, they may or may not be free, and you may or may not alter them. It all depends on what the owner of the OER declares in the CC license.
The MERLOT collection (www.merlot.org) is unique in that it contains a wide selection of open materials, many of them carrying a Creative Commons license. The materials include Open Access articles, Open Access textbooks, open journal articles and OER’s. The MERLOT OER’s include learning materials as” microscopic” as simulations or animations that can be embedded by an instructor into an online course, through to complete online courses.
It’s really easy to search MERLOT II for all or any open texts, open courses, and OER’s, with and without Creative Commons licenses. I urge you to visit www.merlot.org, click on the Search tile, and explore our Advanced Search functions. While you’re at it, you might check out our Search Other Libraries tile) which allows you to search more than 20 other libraries of learning materials, all at the same time. Remember, if you’re looking for free textbooks, you want to look for the category “open texts.” Or, for free courses, look for “open courseware.” And if you need more guidance in how to do this, you can visit the new context-sensitive Help part of our new MERLOT, or you can email the webmaster at firstname.lastname@example.org.